Spain’s national parliament has once again voted to limit the southern European country’s use of “universal jurisdiction” to hunt down politicians which its own judges have deemed as potentially in violation of international law.
Transnational human rights organizations criticized the move and warned that it will mark the end of Spain’s self-proclaimed role as an enforcer of its view of international justice, reports The Guardian.
With about 47 million people, Spain ranks somewhere between Burma (population: about 55 million) and Tanzania (about 45 million). Its gross domestic product is a bit higher than Mexico’s.
In January, Spain’s ruling party, the People’s party, introduced a change to the country’s universal jurisdiction law. Until now, the law has allowed Spanish judges to try human rights abuse cases even when the abuses have nothing to do with Spain.
Spanish judges have eagerly investigated alleged human rights abuses in a bevy of countries including Argentina, Rwanda and Guatemala.
In 1998, Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzón indicted former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Consequently, Pinochet was arrested in London and held for a year and a half before the British government ultimately released him in March 2000.
In 2009, Garzón opened a preliminary and ultimately failed investigation into allegations of torture and abuse in the U.S. military detention camp located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 2010, Garzón found that Spain somehow has jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay.
The 2014 vote by Spain’s Parliament to curb the country’s vast world power came after a Spanish judge issued arrest warrants for former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and a handful of other senior Chinese officials. The warrants alleged that grave human rights abuses had occurred in Tibet a few decades ago.
The judge went so far as to order Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the former high officials.
The timing of the arrest warrants was not ideal for Spain, which has been attempting to boost its perpetually slumping economy by improving trade relations with China.
The Asian superpower was not pleased by the issuance of the arrest warrants.
“China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the erroneous acts taken by the Spanish agencies in disregard of China’s position,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, according to The Guardian.
International human rights organizations are not happy with the reduction in the power of Spanish courts to try and convict world leaders the courts and the human rights organizations don’t like.
“This reform makes it even harder to probe into severe human rights abuses,” Ignacio Jovtis of Amnesty International Spain told The Guardian. “It’s a step backwards for human rights and justice.”
This limitation on the international-police power of Spanish judges is the second such limitation in recent years. In 2009, the country’s legislature tried to decrease the power of local judges by making a law that allows cases to go forward only if Spain is somehow involved.
The latest proposed change, which would allow Spanish courts to get involved in world affairs only if the defendant is Spanish or a resident of Spain, will, if it becomes law, likely end the practice of Spanish judges issuing arrest warrants for politicians from other countries.